Iran Says 'Foreign' Oil Tanker Towed in Gulf After Distress Call

Earlier, U.S. defense official said America 'has suspicions' that Iran seized an oil tanker based in the UAE that turned off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz

FILE Photo: Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018.
\ Hamad I Mohammed/ REUTERS

Iran says it towed a "foreign" oil tanker in the Gulf that was having technical difficulties and had called for help.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Tuesday night said the tanker would be repaired in Iranian waters. Details about the origins of the vessel and the exact location of the incident would be provided later, he added.

There had been speculation earlier Tuesday on the whereabouts of the "Riah" oil tanker, which sails under the flag of Panama. Whether the vessel towed by Iran was indeed the Riah remains unclear.

A U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that America “has suspicions” that Iran seized an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates that turned off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.

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The official says: “Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That’s a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact . it’s going to be a concern.”

According to the website Marine Traffic, the Riah was last seen in the Gulf but had not sent any location data for a number of days. The last signal was sent near the Iranian island of Qeshm near the Strait of Hormuz.

According to Marine Traffic, the ship is listed under the shipping company Prime Tankers based in the United Arab Emirates. In the past 12 months, the Riah was recorded sailing only between the Emirates of Fujairah and Sharjah. With a capacity of 1,900 tons, it is considired a relatively small oil tanker.

In addition, a spokeswoman for the shipping company Prime Tankers disputed to dpa that the vessel was part of their fleet. The UAE also disputed that the vessel was operated by the UAE.

There were no UAE employees on board, nor had the ship sent a distress call, according to a report from the state news agency WAM.

Tensions remain high in the Strait of Hormuz. Washington has accused Tehran of being behind a series of recent attacks against commercial vessels near the strait.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.